For the whole week since my return I have been trying to get my head around my research. Basically I need to find a way to make an online community happening for the Global Citizenship Project. Sounds easy enough, get a bunch of students together, tell them to do something online and there is your community. Of course this attempt is doomed to failure. No community, online or off line will thrive without commitment and active participation of its members. At the basis of any community stand several important aspects: shared interests, social presence, a sense of belonging and updates (/ content). Not all communities need all of these, but 3 out of 4 give a good chance of survival.
If I look at myself I like to think that I belong to several communities. I don't make the same amount of effort for all of them, but they all take work and time. This blog for instance. It is not only the writing of it, it is also the searching on the web for things to post, the summarizing of my events of the day, the comments which are posted, the links, the pictures, the pushing myself to write etc. etc. It takes EFFORT to make it work. Sports, friends, family, hyves profiles, dating sites, book societies, embroidery clubs, volunteering, you name it, it all takes Time and Effort.
And now I am to research a way to make yet another community come into being and try and move people into making an effort to let it thrive. All of the prerequisites of a community seem to be quite absent:
Shared interests. Ok.. all of the students in the Global Citizenship Project will do a semester of study in Global Citizenship, but would you bother joining a community about it? They get 7000$ / 4500 EUR to do it - I would study ANYTHING, from Sumerian to molecular biology for a sponsored semester of study abroad!
Social presence. None of the students will know each other, they will be introduced to each other during a 3 day workshop and after that they will be separated again for their studies at different universities. Is that basis enough to check and come back to a website and socialize? I reckon they will just swap Hyves or MySpace profiles... Maybe even MSN addresses if they really fancy each other.
A sense of belonging. Will you belong after you met strangers 3 days? Thought as much...
Updates (/ content) The members will need to contribute to the community to keep it alive. This can be hard.. My blog will cease if I don't keep up with the posts, but every community is faced with this crucial aspect of content and updates.
Take my study society "SV Contact": we've got like 300 members I guess. All doing the same course; we have pretty much the same interests; several social engagements in the form of lectures, work groups and after-hours activities like drinks and trips, but our website and its forum are, besides the occasional boost after camps and trips, pretty desolate.
With 80 students on the Global Citizenship website I fear the worst..
The only real card left is the 'assessment' card I'm afraid.. give them points for joining, the game of numbers. It's sad but true. The web is a competitive place, and to keep your audience, we need desperate measures: the high social control of sites like Hyves and MySpace, the potential love of your life on dating sites and the constant stream of updates on news portals and blogs.
Or simply a pass or fail.